INDIAN ROCKS BEACH - County Commissioner Bob Stewart and his group of county staff myrmidons got a less than enthusiastic reception from Indian Rocks Beach officials last Thursday night in the great Gulf Boulevard beautification dream.
And no wonder. For IRB, as of right now, the price tag would be $8,183,541 - about a million simoleons more than the city's budget.
Where this city would come up with that kind of wampum is a mystery. Stewart talks about the county's end of the cost for the great project as coming out of the LOST (local option sales tax), better known as "Penny for Pinellas."
While the "Penny" tax produces about $136 million total yearly in the county, Indian Rocks Beach has received something like $300,000 over the past several years from the tax fund.
If all of that were dedicated to the Gulf Boulevard expense it would take more than 27 years to pay off $8 million-plus. The cost to IRB for the length of Gulf Boulevard through the city is more than $500 a foot.
"Pie in the sky," it has been tabbed and the simple facts seem to indicate such. The project's estimated cost has nearly doubled in six years.
The county is banking on a renewal of Penny for Pinellas. The money, that is, is yet to come.
Penny for Pinellas came into being in the 1990-1999 decade after being approved by voters very narrowly. The second round got a 64 percent approval vote. That ends in 2009. Voters go to the polls next March to consider approving a third round that would carry from 2010-2019.
IRB Commissioner Jose Coppen made some telling points. He asked what is the value of the undergrounding (which the county will pay for) and beautification (that the city will pay for).
"You mean," he asked, "someone in Ohio is going to say let's not go to Pinellas County because the wires are not buried? Or someone in Duesseldorf (Germany) is going to make this a must vacation destination because utilities are undergrounded?"
Commissioner Jim Palamara had a lot of financial questions and Commissioner Ed Piniero wondered about eminent domain questions in terms of locating utilties' equipment.
Mayor Bill Ockunzzi came up with the bottom line - "We need to know more detail, more figures."
Before he did that, though, he worked in some of his favorite themes - such as since Indian Rocks Beach is a tourist and visitor mecca, and the county benefits from the taxes so generated, how about some help with our accesses and beach cleanup?
According to Stewart, Indian Rocks Beach last week was the last stop on the trek up the coast in the first phase of the project which was to go out and meet city officials.
The Stewart troupe was in Belleair Beach two weeks ago and was not exactly a boffo hit. In fact, Commissioner John Hayes of Belleair Shore got quite exercised by the simplistic materials supplied by the county staff and waving it around in mid-air wondered how any responsible decision could be made on the basis of such thin evidence.
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